Foods that say home

Mother in 1991 weighing her record high weight of 120 lbs.

The food doesn’t actually speak, but you know what I mean. 

We were raised by a mom who was 5’6″ tall and had to work to stay above 110 lbs.  I think our mother was so traumatized by growing up as a Skinny Minnie that she wanted to fatten her family so we never had to endure that trauma.  The result is that I will never have to worry about buzzards circling my thin body.  I am healthy looking enough that I can’t start running without people looking for the ax murderer who must be chasing me.

Mother came from a long line of good cooks.  Our grandma, Letha Jane Palmer, made potato rolls that floated out of the pan.  Just evoking the memory of those rolls makes me happy.  And enchiladas?  For a woman who couldn’t say “hola” (or could but wouldn’t know what it meant), she made great chili gravy and terrific cheesy enchiladas.  I don’t know who taught her.  She knew enough not to make the chili with tomatoes so I know she wasn’t taught by someone raised north of Austin. 

Our family ate healthy.  We always had salad and veggies with whatever meat was offered and there was always dessert.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, we were trained that a clean plate represented a good child.  That wasn’t a problem for me and I don’t say that as a criticism.  I remember our mom’s cooking with great love and still haven’t managed to make a pot roast that tastes like hers. 

Pretty much everything we ate had garlic and chili powder in it.  The first time I ate real Italian spaghetti I was appalled.  It didn’t taste right!  Coleman family spaghetti was more garlicky and a little less chili spiced than our Texas chili.  But the chili powder taste was still there.  It took a few years before I abandoned the Dorothy Marie method and started cooking Italian food without chili powder.

Asian cuisine was characterized as Oriental with the recipes coming from La Choy ads in the Sunday supplement.  Chinese noodles always bedded the chow mein and the chicken might be replaced with turkey, tuna, pork or ground meat. 

Texas hash was a mainstay and Fridays were always meatless.  We walked home for lunch and were usually greeted with chalupas or tuna salad on Fridays and soup with a sandwich the rest of the week.

With this many of my family together, you can bet we just finished eating. (Uncle Woody's 75th birthday, 1987)

We were the type family that always ate dinner together.  As we got older and more involved with part-time jobs or after school activities, we were still expected to be part of the family meal time most nights.  Back in the 60’s, we were normal in that respect.  Today, sociologists estimate that about 60% of all families eat 4 or more meals together with 10% eating less than 3 meals together.

I wasn’t as successful at keeping the family meal tradition as my parents were.  My hat’s off to those parents in the 60% category.  Family meals for my kids and me were often MacD’s eaten together on the way to play rehearsal or work.  I found that when I was able to plan sufficiently to ensure that we ate home 4-5 nights a week, I dropped 4-5 pounds. 

When Jack was an older teen and getting him home for any meal was a challenge, GE suggested making one meal a week an imperative.  After considerable wrangling since an 18 year old’s schedule rivals the U.S. president’s, we set Sunday as the day we’d hell or high water share a meal together.  Sometimes, the meals were a 20 minute touch and go; sometimes, it was an hour shared laughter and conversation.  The point was the time.  In hindsight, it’s opals and rubies.

Many of my happy memories both as a child and as an adult surround food.  That isn’t necessary for good times with all families.  My friend, Glenda, has a standing Friday night special with her brother and sister and I know for a fact that it centers around conversation and not around food.  I know that’s true.  With the same curiosity that I used to have about people who could have a party without alcohol, I quizzed her about what they ate on Friday nights. 

“Nothing.  We just get together and talk.”  (“Yeah, but does somebody bring chips and dips?”)  “No, Margaret.  We just catch up on the past week.” (“So, do you order pizza?”)  “I don’t think we are that all about food.  We just like to be with one another.”

Without food???!!!  This is why she’s a size 6 and I’m in the double digits.

Dorothy Marie’s Almond Chicken
 2 tablespoons oil
 4 chicken breast, skinned
 1-2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
 1 can (4 oz.) sliced mushrooms, drained
 Splop of soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Fluffy rice
 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Boil 4 chicken breasts.  Save broth; bone chicken and chop into pieces.
In skillet, melt butter and add celery, onion and garlic.  Saute until limp.  Add chicken. 
Add 2 cups of broth and bring to a boil and lower heat to simmer
Mix 2 T. of flour with ¼ hot water until smooth.  Slowly stir until incorporated into chicken.
Stir in soy sauce and give mixture a chance to thicken over low heat.
Serve over rice with a sprinkling of toasted almonds.
(For a real Dorothy Marie Sunday after church meal, serve iceberg lettuce and tomato salad with Thousand Island dressing made with ketchup, Miracle Whip, chopped onion, and sweet pickle relish with a dash of Tabasco and green beans with bacon as side dishes.)
Letha Jane’s Incredible Potato Rolls
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
2 cups water
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
6 cups all-purpose flour
Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Set cooking liquid aside to cool to 110 degrees F-115 degrees F. Mash potato (don’t add milk or butter); set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm cooking liquid. Add the honey, oil, salt, egg, 4 cups flour and mashed potato. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough
Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 7-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; roll dough out and cut into 36 pieces.
Place in a buttered 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees  for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown
Lightly paint roll tops with sugar-water to make shiny.
If you don’t have time to make the rolls right away, the dough keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.  Just cover it with a plate and punch it down when it tries to blob out of the bowl.
(We ate these rolls in place of flour tortillas with the enchiladas at Grandma’s house.  This is half the recipe that Grandma made.  She rarely made less than one 9” x 13” pan and a couple of 9” x 9” pans of rolls.  Breakfast the following morning was always rolls, split in half, buttered and toasted.)

About texasgaga

I am a mom, a grandmom (Gaga to my 2nd oldest grand-child), a sister, a friend, a construction estimator, a homeowner, an active member of a 12 step recovery group, an artist, a reader, a survivor, a do it yourself wannabe, a laugher
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